It is snowing again as I back the car out of the garage for one final trip to the store. I could have sworn the package said four D-cell batteries, not eight. One lonely strand of battery operated lights to adorn an eighteen-inch Christmas tree and tiny plastic ornaments will fill the last few inches of a tightly packed box. I find it difficult to pack and ship "Christmas" to a Soldier deployed in active combat, especially when that Soldier happens to be my son, the only child I have.
My little boy, who once wore red Dr. Denton pajamas with feet, will proudly
dress in Desert Camouflage and combat boots this Christmas. My son
Tanner will flush his eyes with Visine in 100-degree temperatures instead
of feeling snowflakes falling gently on his face. Military cuisine mixed with
desert sand will be his dinner, consumed while sitting on the floor of a tent,
in place of his normal holiday meal at home surrounded by family and
friends. Bombs and bullets will replace the revelry of Christmas carols.
For 25 years, Tanner and I have created and shared our own
traditions. As a child, my son was allowed one "early" present on the
afternoon of Christmas Eve…one that would occupy him while I finished
cooking and setting the dinner table.
I wrap that special present this year, its label clearly stating, "Early
Christmas Gift," and place it in the box on top, separated by paper. I can see
the smile on his face when he realizes that although a world apart, our
tradition will continue.
I manage to include a small canned ham, pop-top cans of vegetables,
potatoes, and fruit. There are candy canes and homemade Christmas
cookies, gently set in tin containers surrounded by bubble wrap. Hidden
inside brightly colored paper, is a CD player with Christmas music and a
month’s supply of AA batteries. I add a brand new calendar, allowing him to
mark the days until his return. What am I forgetting?
Ripping open boxes of decorations from years gone by, I finally find his
miniature stocking, a small snow globe, and the most important piece of
tradition: the matching snowman candle holders and tapers. Both lit with
one match, our candles have cast a warm glow on the table every year.
These symbols will separate for the first time…one making its solitary
journey to brighten the darkest Christmas. Gathering the remnants of happier times, I gingerly place this candle among Tanner’s holiday cheer, along with the stocking and globe.
"My son, I am striving to provide you with the best Christmas I possibly
can. I wish I knew how to wrap my heart, my love, and send it nestled
among the tissue paper. Do you recognize the significance of each item I have sent? Can you see past the contents of this box, Tanner? Are you able to feel the Christmas spirit, tucked inside and sealed tightly with packing tape? Can you feel me holding you as I whisper softly, ‘Merry Christmas, my son?’ I am there with you. We both know that I am. Miles may separate us, but nothing can keep us apart at Christmas."
It is now 8:00 a.m. in Connecticut on the morning of Christmas Eve, making
it 4:00 pm in Iraq. I picture a Soldier on his bunk, opening a corrugated box
containing a cache of love and prayers, folded delicately among layers of
papers. My tears blend with a slow smile as I wonder if my son actually waited until 4:00 pm to open his early present. I think not, and my imagination creates a cascading slideshow of images … ones that find me alternating between tears and laughter, while I visualize Tanner’s reaction to each carefully chosen item.
Sitting in a tent in the desert my son opens "Christmas" with a smile,
inter-fused with sorrow and a longing for home. As he lights his candle, he
daydreams…forming his own picture show…of me packing the car with gifts
for our family, along with my contributions to the evening meal at my
sister’s house. His eyes close as he forces the heat and sand to restructure
itself to winter’s chill and swirling snowflakes.
I sit at a bare table, placing my lone candle in its center. As I strike the
match, I feel the presence of my son…traveling within the glow of his
candle, to be by my side this Christmas Eve. My eyes close, holding the image of my little boy in his red Dr. Dentons.
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